The 9 am Mass
SOMETIMES I am struck by the fervor of some Catholics. Sometimes they are fanatical and border on fundamentalism. They are just as destructive with their words as others of the ilk are with bombs, the bullet and drone warfare. I would like to think that Catholic fundamentalism is dwindling, especially thanks to COVID-19 which forced millions of Catholics out of the church pews and into their armchairs and sofas in front of their wide screens.
Many have attended the TV Mass several times a day, others continue celebrate the TV Mass every day. The thing is that multitudes have come to God on TV. What is not to love? The Pope’s daily live Mass was a hit with millions. Others have become avid fans of Masses in the US, various parts of Italy and Ireland. The TV Mass is not intrusive. You can do what you like. Click for hold, for that cup of tea or coffee, toilet or medicinal break and meet a medical requirement.
The TV Mass is at your call. Will the Pope ban the TV Mass because more and more Catholics are opting for the Mass in their homes? It may come to that because parish funds are not only dwindling but there is little left in the coffers. However, Rome has plenty and it is always asking for more. It could be an awfully long wait though. Rome is also feeling the penny pinch.
On the other hand, COVID and other pandemics permitting, there are the true faithful who will not abandon their parish. Most of these true believers, aged 50 and more, are to be found at the daily Mass. The Mass I am writing about, we will call it the 9.00 Mass. My wife and I would every Saturday morning and later after I retired from work, I would go as often as I could.
I am not writing about anyone specific and while it is fiction it is a fiction created by my life in the Catholic church around the world. I am not a fundamentalist, I am just your everyday, average Catholic. Being of Goan origin, some of the fervour
The first person who is usually standing outside the front doors of the church, waiting to be let in is Mildred Raphaeli. She is of Maltese descent but born and bred in Australia, third or fourth generation, I forget which. After Mass I usually spend a little time with her. That is pretty unusual because she does not chat with anyone else. It is not that she is unfriendly. She is a mental wreck. Oh, she speaks just as well as anyone. Her memory is fine, maybe too fine. She told me once that her specialists and doctors suggested to that some memories are best left in a hole in the ground. They turn out to be nightmares. After years and years of seeking respite and escape from these nightmares, she has learned to live with them. With some help from a psychiatrist and a psychologist she has managed finds moments of peace, even minutes of peace sometimes, by mentally driving out the demons in her head. She knows that she can get them out of her head. But they keep coming back. She given up on medication, pills, pills, jabs and shrinkology of this kind that that kind and medicines from miracle workers of the predominantly fraud variety.
These days she has learnt to live with her demons with her God as her only ally. She told me once that she was no afraid of anything anymore. She has faced her truth and knows that respite will only come when she picks up her ticket to Heaven. She is waiting for death and sooner the better. She prays all the time anywhere.
While at Mass, she regularly stands up, spreads her arms as she was on some earthly cross. Her face is often a mess of tears and no one bats an eyelid. Most people know Mildred, though not in any detail but they pray for her too.
Another thing, Mildred is alone in this world. She never married. She was an only child and the Raphaeli family tree is not even the vaguest memory anymore. Generations have come and generations have gone to their Maker.
I had told her many years ago, when she was 40-something that if she needed me, I would try and be there for her. We have been going to the same church for 46 years. She is now 86. A bit frail. Withered and weathered but spritely as her age and long mental illness ill permit. I had asked her once what her main ailment was and she would say “One day, before I catch the bus I will tell”. What bus I wondered and asked her, but she would not say. One day it dawned on me that Mildred was talking about the bus that plies the highway to Heaven.
Six years ago, on her 80th birthday, my wife and I went to her home (she was living on her own with home help and other assistance provided by the New South Wales’ My Aged Care department which does one heck of job helping aged folks to live in their own homes for as long as they are able) and took her to our home where we surprised her with a birthday party. Three or the priests from the parish, a few of the folks from the 9 am Mass and family were there. She cried the whole night and when Father James consoled her at one point, she told him: “They are tears of joy and thanksgiving.”
Things changed rapidly after that birthday. Here is some of her story. I write this with the hope that if you see someone acting a little, or a lot, odd, mad, insane, or anything that makes you squirm, you will be able to be more at ease in the future.
Mildred was a beautiful baby with magical golden curls and a smile and a laugh to die for. Growing up she was everybody’s favourite beautiful baby. Even as a young child, she revelled in life. She loved painting, reading, writing stories, sports, poetry and all those things that take a young girl’s fancy. She was friends with everyone and did not ever a foe of any kind. Some mothers said she was the perfect child. Her mother tried to put a stop to that kind of talk, fearing the dreaded evil eye, black magic and this and that of the ilk.
Then came the Devil’s Day which destroyed her life. She was walking home as usual when a car came to a screeching halt beside her. She thought nothing of it and waved a friendly hello to whoever was in the car and carried on walking home without giving a second thought to anything in particular. She was even smiling to herself. She remembered that because she was going to share her excellent school results with her mum and dad, both of whom dotted on her.
She found herself in hell but barely alive. A victim of paedophilia. She inched her way to live one day at a time but, she was never whole. She went through childhood, youth, womanhood, held together like a matchstick doll, fragile, living the memory of her hell like it was yesterday. Her mind, like the rest of body, was held together by flimsy invisible threads made possible doctors and medicines of the mind … they were at a loss, they could not fix her.
Many, many years ago, she found some comfort in her local church and day by day she grew to feeling a little peace each time she knelt in “her” pew, which became her very own special place and most folks left her alone there.
One day, she told me that she was waiting for the bus. I was bemused, she usually walked home, or we gave her a lift in our car. Why, I wondered. Oh, she said, the bus to heaven, it is coming soon.
A few days later, she caught that bus. She was gone without a trace. There were just five people at her funeral. It seems she never existed… except in the hearts of one or two people who come regularly to the 9 am Mass.
ANTONIO SALVATORE was 90 the other day. The front pew on the right-hand side of the church is reserved for him, he has made it his own. These days he does not say much, his English was never brilliant but we managed a conversation everyday while we sat outside in the sunshine waiting to go in for the 9 am Mass. Tonio lost his wife 20 years ago and his children and their offspring are spread all around the world, including Italy, the land of his birth. Giovanni Capricio is his best friend and acted as an interpreter.
Antonio knows the bus is coming for him. He is hoping and praying that he will be around for this 100th birthday and one or two of his children will be here to raise a glass or two of vino. In Italian, albeit slow Italian, he has a regularly chuckle. When I asked why the 9 am Mass, he said he has been coming for the past few decades to build his assets (his heavenly bank balance). He is hoping that he will have enough in his account to allow him a direct entry into the promised land. Sunday Mass is also something of a social event for him because he meets up with the few Italian families left in the surrounding suburbs. Someone always takes him home for lunch. He loves the time he spends with his families. Thanks to the internet, he can watch Italian movies and some English movies with Italian subtitles.
Tonio was a builder and for many decades owned a larger construction outfit which built most of the homes in the surrounding suburbs. He is alone now and when you mention his wife, a tear or two accompanied by a large smile light his face up. Each night (or day) one of his children, their respective partners or the one of the grand or great grandchildren share some face time with him. “They keep me alive,” he tells Joe (Giovanni). I would love to have know his life story, especially the early days in Australia but time never allows that at the bells signals the start of the Mass.
There are, of course, more women than men at the 9 am Mass. At the end of the Mass, they take over the church and recite the Rosary, special intentions, various litanies and devotions. The Statue of Our Lady with the Infant Jesus is always well decked with flowers and when all the communal praying is done, many stand in front of the “Mother Mary” and beg her help. There is a note pinned to the statue: Please do not touch the statue, better to be safe than sorry in these Covid-times.
The women recite their prayers with a fervour that all their own and a precision of voice that is not out of place where the spoken word requires military precision. I don’t doubt for a moment that their intensity paints their devotion perfectly.
There is also a note at the altar of the dead: Please do not attempt to light these candles, they are electric. Most people have become accustomed to that and someone or the other will run their fingers on the candles to light them. Some will also put some coins in the money box for their intentions.
The 9 am Mass is for the aged. It is very rare to see children of school age (except on Fridays when there is a separate Mass for the children of the adjoining school).
Death is taking its toll in many ways. Catholic churches around the world are desperately short of priests and it has been so for a very long time and paedophile priests is not the only reason. Whatever, the reason, services had to be curtailed. African priests have been in the UK for many decades. Now priests from India, the Philippines, Sir Lanka, Pacific Islands, wherever are filling the vacancies, but there are not enough of them. Some churches are training their own priests, from youth to priesthood. The are working out well.
The complexion of Catholic churches in Sydney is changing from all white to most brown skinned. The 9 am Mass used to be all white, with one or two brown spots. Today the brown spots are the dominant number. At one church I know, the Europeans congregate at a Saturday Mass, a few are sprinkled through the rest of the Masses on Sunday.
The face of the Catholic Church in parts of Sydney has changed forever.
White priests are slowly becoming a lost tribe, so is Benediction and the Angelus. The Novena is disappearing, too. I wonder if the TV Mass will replace everything Catholic and religion will become completely virtual? If it isn't already.
After all, even at the 9 am Mass, we are waiting in readiness for that bus.
Based on some folks I have met during my life.